Friday, May 23, 2008

Remembering Rory---Photos & Stories

Here's another look and a few more stories about Rory Root, my friend and the owner of Comic Relief who sadly passed away this past Monday.

Rory was one of the early organizers of WonderCon. Along with his former business partner in Comic Relief, Mike Patchen, Rory lent funds to the organizing committee one year to float the convention until ticket sales helped us pay all of our bills. If I recall, the only thing Rory and Mike asked for in exchange was that first row of booths, so Comic Relief would be the first display fans would see as they came into the show. Knowing that the #1 rule of marketing is to "be first in the market", Rory and Mike knew what they were doing.

Rory's Comic Relief was the recipient of the'93 Eisner "Spirit of Comics" award for retailing excellence. Flying Colors was a finalist that year, as we were again in '94. But, somehow, some way, when Rory was a judge in 1995, Flying Colors was honored as the recipient. I'm not saying we didn't deserve it, or that there was some hanky panky, but it's good to know the judges!

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I got to know Rory before I opened Flying Colors when I helped the NCCDA (Northern California Comic Dealers Association), an early retailer trade association, with its advertising and promotion. It was a point of pride for us---Rory, Bob Borden, Lindsay Chu, Bob Smoot, Clayton Tavernier, Michael Pandolfo and others---we were able to band together to do some successful advertising programs and get a number of publishers to pay for most of them.

At the San Diego Con one year (maybe '91), the NCCDA had a meeting with Carole Kalish, who was then head of Marvel's sales department. We asked for more money to advertise and she objected, telling all of us there that we had accounted for 80% of Marvel's discretionary ad budget the previous year. Since Rory was always in on those negotiations, it became a point of pride for him---and all NCCDA retailers. Because we organized and got creative with the way we promoted our stores, we pushed ahead of retailers in larger markets. And it was due in no small part to Rory's persistence in asking for more from his suppliers.

Later, NCCDA merged with an group called ERCBRA (Eastern Regional Comic Book Retailers Association, if I recall correctly) to form the first national retailer trade association called CBRI (Comic Book Retailers International, although I'm not sure we ever had members outside the U.S.). After a few years of trying to make CBRI into something big, the group splintered into regional groups again. So the Bay Area retailers formed BACR (Bay Area Comic Retailers) and since it was difficult for the guys in the South Bay to attend our meetings, they formed their own group called TERM (see photo caption). The photo shown here was, if not the only, one of maybe two meetings of the two Nor-Cal retailer groups.

Which leads us to ComicsPRO, now the largest ever comic book retailer trade association. With all the experience Rory had in various associations over the years, his wisdom in getting ComicsPRO off the ground has been invaluable. He was an active participant in both ComicsPRO annual meetings the last two years, even when his health problems caused him constant pain. Rory Root was part of the forming of all these retailer trade groups. So in addition to being such a supporter of the art of comics, he was a just as big a supporter of improving the business of comics

He didn't complain about his ailments, at least not to me, and we talked a lot. But I also did keep my phone conversations with him to manageable time segments--- I've known and been reminded this week that Rory often had loooonnnggg conversations regularly extending to all hours of the night and early morning. I kept my chats with him mostly to 30 or 40 minutes because that's about all I'm good for on the phone.

Rory did a lot of good things for the business of comics, perhaps the most profound of which was goading publishers and retailers to adopt his bookstore model with the comic book twist. In perhaps his last online interview, Rory along with several other stellar retailers, offered advice to independent comic artists on how to get more exposure in comic shops. That interview can be found at Newsarama .

There's a hole in the comic book world...and with the sadness of Rory's passing, there's also a real sense of gratitude for his key contributions to the ongoing health of the comics' industry.

But more than that, I feel profound gratitude for his friendship over the last 22 or so years. Rory's is a presence that will not soon be forgotten. It's like I've lost a brother...a long-haired hippie of a brother I know I'd never have---but a brother just the same.




Blogger Oscar said...

The news of the unexpected passing of Rory has stunned me. I would like to take this opportunity to add my condolences to the family and friends of Rory. I would also like to share my personal memories I had of Rory in the hope that we will always remember him as the shining soul that he was.
I met Rory back in days of "The Best Of Two Worlds". That store was my first exposure to the wonderful world of comic book stores. I had never imagined a business would cater exclusively to comic books and it was indeed magical for a teenager growing up in Oakland, California. I found Rory to be helpful, but more importantly he was a fan himself. Years later I would run into him again back in the days of wild distribution wars when I was the driver for the late "Capital City Distribution". As a retailer who obtained his product from Capital, Rory carried considerable clout but didn't flaunt his influence when I delivered his books or when he picked them up from the branch.
As the Capital empire crumbled-I always looked forward to seeing Rory at the Wonder-Con event when I became the photographer for the annual show. I would always be sure to get a shot of Rory in his booth simply because I have always considered him to be one of the original retailers who always seemed to persevere despite all the chaotic changes that bedeviled the business.
The world of comic book retailing has indeed lost one of its shining lights! Rory-I know that you are looking down upon us in between perusing through mint condition editions of Action Comics #1 or Amazing Fantasy #15! Rest In Peace, my brother!

10:35 PM  
Anonymous Jimmie Robinson said...

Thank you Joe for opening my eyes even wider to the impact that Rory has (and still) made in the industry. I knew him well, and personally, too. I only wish I had the time to say goodbye. This sad news was sudden.

Great photos. Nice write up.

2:03 PM  
Blogger FlyCoJoe said...

I really appreciate hearing from everyone how much Rory means to them. Please keep the comments coming!


2:23 PM  
Blogger Mark Parsons said...

Seeing these pics of a beardless Rory triggered a vivid 1989 era memory of entering CR and seeing him stocking the shelves.

I never knew Rory personally, but would see him at SDCC, amidst his always spectacular Comic Relief aisle. of course, now I wish I had introduced myself (old school FC employee, etc) and had a chat.

Still, all the memorials that have been posted in recent days are doing a lovely job of evoking and honoring Rory.

Maybe the Eisners can rechristen the retailer award after Rory Root. Two Titans United!

10:40 AM  

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